It was in November 2013 when then Mayor-elect of New York City Bill de Blasio, succeeding Michael Bloomberg, announced that he planned to settle the $250 million Central Park Five lawsuit against the city, which was filed over a decade ago.
What struck me most, and continued to stay with me long after seeing Ken Burns’ excellent documentary, “The Central Park Five,” in 2012, was the fact that the titular gentlemen, now all adults, after serving lengthy sentences in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, were still fighting for justice vis-à-vis the then unresolved civil suit, which they filed against the City of New York for their wrongful imprisonment, almost 10 years prior.
In 2002, all convictions against the 5 men were dismissed due to new evidence (including DNA) that suggested a previously convicted murderer-rapist was the culprit. A year later, in 2003, a multi-million-dollar federal lawsuit was filed by the 5 men for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress – a case, if you’re intimately familiar with the particulars of the matter, or have seen Ken Burns’ least subjective documentary, you’d believe would be a slam-dunk and should’ve been settled almost immediately.
Yet, 10 years later, the 5 men continued to wait for justice to serve them; the same so-called justice that rushed to convict them, despite the fact that there were holes in the evidence that was used against them at the time; notably, and maybe most significantly, the fact that DNA from none of the 5 men was found anywhere within the crime scene – an important piece of evidence that was glazed over, in favor of coerced testimony, without lawyers present, from each of the 5 then teens.
But that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; there was far more evidence that suggested they had nothing whatsoever to do with the Central Park rape that took place in New York City’s Central Park on April 19, 1989, than there was that would incline any officer of the court or jury to convict them of it.
The film was subpoenaed by lawyers representing NYC, wanting to examine outtakes and unused interview footage, which they hoped would help their defense against the $250 million suit.
Burns, who co-directed the documentary with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and her husband, David McMahon, called the subpoena “outrageous,” and fought it, citing New York State’s shield laws, which are designed to protect journalists from having to compromise their sources.
It didn’t take very long for a New York City federal court to block the attempt by the City, ruling that the filmmakers/production company had ” established its independence in themaking of the film,” and could claim the privilege.
“It’s been almost ten years,” Burns added. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Attorneys for the CP5 argue that their lives were stolen from them, and that “it’s incumbent on those in this city who believe in truth, who believe in justice, who believe in morality to impress on Mr. de Blasio and others who have a responsibility of bringing about a proper settlement to make that a reality.”
And thankfully, unlike his predecessor, then Mayor-elect de Blasio, despite the intransigence on the part of the cops and prosecutors, agreed to settle the case, putting an end to a civil matter that long faced heavy opposition under the Bloomberg administration; although it’s not quite the $250 million figure the Five originally sued for ($50 million civil suits each), with reports at the time (last fall), saying that the sum would cripple the city if paid out.
The feature-length documentary, “The Central Park Five,” which made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, is currently streaming on Netflix.
Read the full New York Times report here.